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Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Quotes


Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Narrator, Chapter 1

The narrator introduces a lively and powerful girl, someone worthy of admiration or envy. The reader wants to root for such a gifted heroine, but at the same time is put off by the egotism in the narrator's ironic tone. The reader may be sure that this paragon of female virtue will be taken down a peg or two before the story ends.


A young farmer ... is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do.

Emma Woodhouse, Chapter 4

Emma reveals a shocking degree of snobbery in her desire to distance herself from Robert Martin, the yeoman farmer whom her protégé, Harriet, has an interest in. At the same time, the harshness of her assessment is for the purpose of persuading Harriet away from an interest in him.


I confess that I have seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me that hers. But I am a partial old friend.

Mr. Knightley, Chapter 5

Mrs. Weston, Emma's old governess, pushes Mr. Knightley to acknowledge Emma's physical beauty, but he hardly wants to admit his attraction to himself, undercutting his statement by saying he may be partial because he is an old friend.


Till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many.

Emma Woodhouse, Chapter 8

Knightley says Harriet should feel lucky that a man such as Robert wishes to marry her. Emma responds that Harriet's beauty extends her field of choice. The argument is ironic on both sides because both characters believe in the rules that govern relations among the classes, and yet both are arguing to bend the rules for a particular favorite. The argument also illustrates the ongoing argument between men and women over the primacy of physical beauty in men's choice of a mate.


You are very fond of bending little minds; but where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones.

Emma Woodhouse, Chapter 18

Emma is defending Frank Churchill to Knightley, who criticizes him for not fulfilling his duty as a son. Emma refers to the little minds of his Churchill relations, who would keep him away, and when she refers to the swelling out of the great ones, she means Knightley. In this dialogue she exhibits her considerable wit and skilled use of metaphor.


'And no great harm if it does,' said Mr. Woodhouse. 'The sooner every party breaks up, the better.'

Mr. Woodhouse, Chapter 25

Mr. Weston tries to persuade Emma's father to allow her to stay out late when she attends the Coles' dinner party, saying that when Emma leaves, the party will end. Mr. Woodhouse's comment shows how Austen uses Mr. Woodhouse's fear and selfishness for comic effect and also illustrates Mr. Woodhouse's narcissism.


She did ... regret the inferiority of her own playing and singing. She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood—and sat down and practiced vigorously an hour and a half.

Narrator, Chapter 27

The narrator explains that Emma felt badly about her inferior piano playing when comparing herself to Jane Fairfax. Emma is jealous of Jane, but in this moment she merely feels her own inferiority and regrets that she did not have Jane's discipline and thus did not cultivate her own talent.


Why really, dear Emma, I say that he is so very much occupied by the idea of not being in love with her, that I should not wonder if it were to end in his being so at last.

Mrs. Weston, Chapter 33

Mrs. Weston has been pushing the idea that Mr. Knightley is in love with Jane, and when Mr. Knightley tells her she is mistaken (in the presence of Emma), she still cannot give up the idea. Here is another example of perverse blindness in the face of the facts. Her statement is also ironic because it applies to Mr. Knightley, in that he hides his true feelings for Emma.


She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed!

Mr. Knightley, Chapter 43

After Emma humiliates Miss Bates in front of their friends, Mr. Knightley scolds her for lack of feeling. Mr. Knightley shows his true gentlemanly character and upholds the best values of his class—to extend help and compassion to the less fortunate. He also shows his strong ability to empathize with another's situation.


Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct be mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.

Narrator, Chapter 49

The narrator explains how Emma does not take the opportunity to tell Knightley why she initially discouraged him from speaking—because she thought he would reveal to her his love for Harriet. In explaining the particular interaction between the two lovers, Austen also articulates a universal belief—that it often difficult to tell the whole, literal truth, and at times to do so would actually hinder human relations. In such instances the ends may justify the means.

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